When the lights go down on the Richmond Triangle Players stage, that's when the puppets come out to play.
Rod puppets. Hand puppets. Shadow puppets. Mouth puppets. Even object puppets. Puppets Off Broadway has them all. A local group with the goal of strengthening Richmond's puppet scene through performances, workshops, and educational programming for all ages, POB is currently using the Triangle Players stage when its dark. They've got an upcoming Winter Puppetfest planned for Dec. 26 through Jan. 3 with 15 performances.
Also the group is at the tail end of an online Indiegogo fundraising campaign to help them raise money for infrastructure and to keep ticket prices low at $10. With only six days left, they've raised roughly a quarter of the $10,000 goal.
Founder Heidi Rugg says that she and other local puppeteers are used to having to travel to perform in cities with strong puppet scenes such as Atlanta, New York, Boston and Asheville. She believes that Richmond could join their ranks and, because of its central location off 95, the city would become a good stop for touring puppeteers.
"It's really hard to get the message out about what we're trying to do," says Rugg, a VCU-grad and 20-year-veteran of puppetry. "Puppets gets more hits online for being creepy than for being art. We want to change that perception . . . [And] I think it would be good for the local theater scene as a whole."
Rugg says that her group will offer family fare as well as cutting-edge adult contemporary material. Currently, Puppets Off Broadway is fiscally aided by a New York-based non-profit Fractured Atlas, while it works on finalizing its own non-profit status.
"With all the stuff going on in this country, I'm interested in using puppetry as a medium to explore identity and diversity issues," she says. "There are a lot of opportunities to use puppetry as a means for community transformation."
Other local puppeteers you may know include Christopher Hudert with Applause Unlimited, Abernathy Bland who builds puppets for SPARC's Live Arts program, and Lily Lamberta who works with All The Saints Theater Company.
With this kind of local talent, it makes sense that an intimate venue like RTP would be interested in helping out.
"We are thrilled to open up our wonderful venue to Puppets Off Broad Street," says Phil Crosby with RTP. "It uses the building at a time when it would usually be idle and it gives us a chance to introduce our space to new audiences."